Global food prices -- a major catalyst for social unrest in the Middle East and Africa -- will remain high in 2012, the head of a UN body said Tuesday as he warned there was no simple formula to beat hunger.
"We are expecting that prices will not grow and not drop. There will be some reductions but not drastically, volatility will remain," Jose Graziano da Silva said at his first press conference as boss of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The Rome-based UN agency warned in a November report that while global food prices had fallen sharply in October, volatility on commodity markets is still hurting prospects for world food security.
It also forecast that high prices -- seen as one of the factors behind the famine in southern Somalia and the uprisings in North Africa last year -- were likely to continue "well into 2012".
As unrest continues in Syria in particular, the Brazilian Graziano said the conflict "makes our work more difficult".
"It is expected that we will face problems on food security issues," he added.
Graziano was elected in June to take over this year from Jacques Diouf, who had led the organisation for 17 years.
He is the first Latin American representative to head the UN's agency, which battles hunger which affects over a billion people globally.
The 61-year-old professor promised on Tuesday to put Africa first in the fight "to eliminate hunger" in the world.
"Africa will be a priority during my mandate. I will travel to the continent at the end of January to participate in the African Union Summit and visit the Horn of Africa," he said.
Nations in the region -- mainly Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya -- are facing one of the worst droughts in more than half a century, which has caused malnutrition and food shortages.
Over 13 million people in the region need aid, according to the UN.
The FAO has described the situation in the Horn of Africa as "inadmissible", and has called several times on the international community to not only give emergency aid but support long-term investments in sustainable agriculture.
Graziano said there was "no time to lose" in attempting to halve the number of people suffering, and said he would "increase resources destined for Africa."
The former Brazilian food security minister is internationally acclaimed for his role in designing and implementing the Brazilian "Zero Hunger" ("Fome Zero") programme, which helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty.
Asked whether the programme could work in other afflicted areas, Graziano said that it "needs to be adapted to local systems to work," and stressed that it is "very important for each country to find its own way out of hunger."
"There is no general formula to cure hunger," he said. "It's not only governments who fight hunger: civil society and the private sector also have a role to play. We need churches and unions to join the fight."
Graziano, who has both Brazilian and Italian nationality, is expected to kick off his four year term by carrying out much-needed efficiency reforms on the heavily bureaucratic agency to create "a strong and effective FAO".
"I'm committed to bringing the reform of FAO to a satisfactory conclusion. There is still a lot to do," he said on Tuesday.